Folger Theatre Romeo and JulietBy David Siegel • Oct 25th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Folger Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Folger Elizabethan Theatre, Washington DC
Through December 1st
2:30 with intermission
$30-$72 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed October 20th, 2013
We know the poetry, we know the outcomes, but still we come to see for ourselves; to be transported away into a world of lovers and loss. In bringing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to view, Helen Hayes Award-winning director Aaron Posner puts his stamp on the plague on both houses showing us a world through a glass darkly.
As Posner wrote in his director’s notes: “I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t the stark honesty and wrenching insight of the darker strains in the play that are the real reason for the enduring appeal of this tragic tale.”
This Romeo and Juliet is set in a vaguely contemporary world; a time of muddles, messiness, and no sureness as to what will follow after the worst that can happen, happens. This is not a high-gloss world of ethereal, lush beauty that floats on a cloud. Posner, his cast and the technical artisans have made a world of sinew.
The star-crossed lovers are certainly front and center. But Posner builds the tensions and conflicts into an eruption of violence and death, without a neatly tied up bow of an epilogue. Rather he has chosen a fade away into an abyss. It is a take that you will decide for yourselves whether it fits for you and your temperament, or is too much a jump off a cliff from what you remember and perhaps want.
This is not a Romeo and Juliet focused on a dewy-eyed, fresh-faced, teen-aged appearing, soft-spoken Daddy’s girl named Juliet making her break into womanhood from out of no-where. She is no waif-like, weaker vessel. There is no bare-chested, hunk of a handsome guy playing the role as a misunderstood teen rebel.
And it works; we respond to it. It works quite well with its sense of roughness pricking us into staying enraptured once again. And, overall, it has an almost adult love story essence, not just a youth infused a ride of energy and awakening.
You all know the story told through Shakespeare’s magical, exquisite language. The poetry that in your youth caused girls to swoon and boys to roll their eyes but take joy in all the male energy. Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet the Capulet; their families caught in a deadly blood feud. They meet unexpectedly, fall in love and swiftly decide to marry. A friar secretly marries them. And then comes challenges to their love and lives. Murders, banishment, fatherly commandments, proposed forced marriage, and the ultimate action of shared love.
Posner has his Juliet (Erin Weaver) an independent and forceful being . She is a woman of bearing and substance. She is far from the 14 of the text, but you will not care. When saying dialogue lines as mundane as “close the door” Weaver does not gently ask; she tells, she expects action.
Words to describe Weaver’s Juliet are spunky and feisty. She is deeply loyal to those she cares for, whether Romeo or her Nurse. She wants not the timid, arranged life of her mother. When first we meet Weaver, she is hiding out in oversized nondescript, grunge-like clothes wearing Doc Martin’s, glasses and often a knit cap. Her burgeoning femininity is hidden away. As she journeys along, her long hair flows into view. She ages into a person we would want to know for the long-term. She is not so much sensual as solid. She comes across as competent and mature in a world of power and subservience.
Goldsmith’s Romeo finds himself overshadowed by Weaver’s Juliet. She awakens something in him. Sure it is youthful sensuality, but it has depth beyond mere teenage lush and longings. Juliet is his muse and leads him into adulthood. She seems to have the steerage of his course.
Are they a pair? The glance across a room, unexpectedly finding one another in a sea of masked others, does spark. But their physical connections feel tentative rather than lustful. Yes they consummate their secret marriage, but somehow, one can sense that if there was a long-term relationship between them, she would out-grow him.
Sherri Edelen’s Nurse is a wonder of comic cackling and boisterous good humor in Act I. But when it counts in Act II, she is a loyal, protective presence to Juliet. She moves believably from a broad comic relief character into a protective knight without sword or shiny metal armor.
Paris (Joe Mallon), the suitor expected to marry Juliet, comes across as doughy, soft, and spongy. He is still living in his baby-fat without whiskers. How could he ever interest Juliet. He is a simple foil in this production. Brad Koed’s Mercutio is the requisite fiery, urgent, hot-head. He presents the famous monologue about Queen Mab, the fairy midwife who helps sleepers birth their dreams, with an at first chipper mocking tone that settles into something deeper. It is a show of deep male friendship. Tybalt (Rex Dougherty) seems lost, almost beaten down in a confrontation with Lord Capulet (Brian Dysktra) in the early goings-on.
Eric Hissom’s Friar Lawrence plays as cunning, well-spoken “smart” man thinking he has the answers to problems at hand. But he sets a fuse that doesn’t burn as planned. He, like Lord Capulet, is a man losing control. Late in Act II, as Dystra’s Lord Capulet erupts into a rage against those he no longer can order about, aiming his full wrath at with his beloved daughter Juliet even your reviewer cowered. It was a volcanic eruption of invective, the last gasp of the old.
The set by Meghan Raham is a two-story affair that becomes whatever is necessary with a minimum of constructed objects. Even the Folger Theatre aisles and balcony are used by the actors. For the Act II dénouement, the second story becomes a haunted, haunting place as the ghosts of the dead hover in near darkness above the action.
Composer Carla Kihistedt provides strong musical underpinning to the performance. In Act II, it sounds like piano black keys playing in a dark minor key. Jennifer Schriever’s often noirish lighting brings faces into a framed intimacy as the rest of the cast disappears in an almost cinematic manner.
Laree Lentz’s costume design is one of richness for the powerful adults with the younger generation set apart in less finery. Juliet is the character with the most consequential changes in costumes. But no matter the costume, she is always set apart.
Posner has chosen not to use the epilogue that many will remember, “A glooming peace this morning with it brings; The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head: Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished: For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
It will leave you to wonder; what might be next in the messy world of those remaining alive in Romeo and Juliet. Seems right to me. Go see this production with someone you care about; then chat and make your own decisions. You will be enmeshed once again.
Photos by Teresa Wood
- Benvolio: Aaron Bilden
- Tybalt: Rex Daugherty
- Lord Capulet: Brian Dyskstra
- Nurse: Sherri Edelen
- Romeo: Michael Goldsmith
- Friar Lawrence: Eric Hissom
- Mercutio: Brad Koed
- Lady Capulet: Shannon Koob
- Paris: Joe Mallon
- Lord Montague: Allen McCulloght
- Friar John, Balthazar, Peter: Matthew McGee
- Lady Montague: Michele Osherow
- Juliet: Erin Weaver
- Director: Aaron Posner
- Composer: Carla Kihlstedt
- Scenic Designer: Meghan Raham
- Costume Designer: Laree Lentz
- Lighting Designer: Jennifer Schriever
- Sound Designer: Christopher Baine
- Fight Director: Casey Dean Kaleba
- Resident Dramaturg: Michele Osherow
- New York Casting: Daryl Eisenberg, CSA
- Production Stage Manager: Jocelyn Henjum
- Assistant Stage Manager: Keri Schultz
Disclaimer: Folger Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9837.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.